Whether you're fresh off the Pacific Crest Trail with very few pennies to your name or you're passing through on a shoestring budget, there is so much to explore for free in Bend.

For a no-cost day out and about in the high desert, throw on a day pack filled with a fold up river floatie, a swimsuit, a head lamp and helmet, a puffy jacket, a case of cliff bars and a utility water canteen. Then, endeavor to cross off everything on this list. 

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Search for secret rooms at McMenamins 

Although the Pacific Northwest boasts many microbreweries, it only has one widely celebrated regional craft beer chain, McMenamins. In Bend, McMenamins Old Saint Francis School’s unique decor, soaking pool, on property hotel rooms, delicious pub fare served at three separate bars and event spaces have been wowing visitors for decades. One of their most recent hijinks was put in play when they built two hotel buildings in place of old houses. During the project, a secret bar and four secret rooms were carved out in the hallways of the two buildings. Each secret space has a theme and ambiance all its own. Wandering the hallways of each building and looking for the secret rooms is a fun, exciting and no-cost way to kill a couple hours. Dig through the couch cushions and nooks in the car for change first, that way you can grab a beer too. 

Skiers on chair lift take in big air Ski jumper at Mount Bachelor in Oregon
Younger children can ski for from at Mt. Bachelor in Oregon © Bobbushphoto / Getty Images

Ski free in the side country

Lift tickets for little ones 5-and-under are free at Mount Bachelor, kids 6 to 12 years old can also ski free with the advance online purchase of an adult/parent 3-day pass and on Saturday and Sunday. Carrousel beginner lift at Sunrise lodge is also free to the public. Other ways to ski or snowboard free include taking advantage of the easily accessed side country options which surround Mount Bachelor. Hiking up the cone on the flank of Mount Bachelor, accessible through the parking lot, or skinning up to the summit via a split board or backcountry skis are also options. Be sure to follow the uphill traffic regulations laid out by Powdr. 

Go underground and try spelunking

Extensive networks of lava tubes exist underfoot in the high desert. Though many have yet to be found or charted, some intersect the surface of the Earth and can be explored on a half or whole day trip. At the Redmond Caves Recreations Site you can explore five caves formed from cooled molten lava. Open year-round, these caves have been in the custodianship of Native Americans for over 6,000 years ago, and are home to wildlife and stellar examples of igneous geology. Other options nearer to Bend are Boyd Cave and Lava River Cave

Drone Flight over Deschutes River towards Bend Whitewater Park with paddlers in water
​​​​​Join the locals tubing, paddle boarding, and kayaking near Bend Whitewater Park © halbergman / Getty Images

Get wet at the Whitewater Park

Another can’t-miss free activity on a hot day is hanging out at the Bend Whitewater Park. Whether you unearth your stowed floatie from your pack, throw on your suit and try your hand at running the fish ladders whitewater pour over gauntlets, or just sit and watch others, the park is a spectacle to be observed.

Other options are swimming, sunning yourself, or enjoying the beach at McKay Park. The foot bridge hanging over the park is an especially nice vantage to watch the action. Advanced whitewater enthusiasts bring surf, boogie and paddleboards, kayaks and even rafts to surf in the waves. Travelers and locals easily spend entire weekends watching the action.

Hike Deschutes National Forest with fee-free admission 

Every year Deschutes National Forest, where many of the outdoor attractions are housed that entice travelers to Bend, has a fee-free days including four national public holidays and National Public Lands Day, September 24th. Oregon State Parks hosts three fee-free days per year, including State Parks Day, first Saturday in June. The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife hosts 3 weeks a year where visitors are allowed free fishing. For more on fee-free dates read this article. Central Oregon's beloved High Desert Museum also offers a fee-free day to the public. Call ahead to inquire. 

A close up of various types of beer in small glasses held by a metal flight.
Take a self-guided tour of Bend's microbreweries © Angelo DeSantis / Getty Images

Enjoy a self guided tours

For an enlightening and entertaining day out, embark on any number of self guided tours in Bend. The Bend Ale Trail will take travelers from brewery to brewery with a passport or stampable map. Oftentimes breweries provide free samples of their beer for ale trail patrons.

The Tin Pan Alley public Art and Roundabout Art Route are mapped out via pamphlets travelers can obtain from Visit Bend.

The Old Mill District also provides a map and pamphlet with a checklist for bird watchers and nature walkers.

Finally, the Deschutes County Historical Society has a smartphone app which guides travelers through sites as they Cruise 97. Stops are logged in Bend, Deschutes National Forest, Redmond, Terrebonne, Sunriver and LaPine. Rumor has it an Old Mill District tour is in the works (for the same Cruise 97 app) which guides travelers through the remaining artifacts from the old mill days.

Take advantage of free transportation

The good news about getting around Bend, within a certain radius and specific hours of operation, is there’s a free service called Ride Bend that can get you where you want to go. Available through a smart phone app Ride Bend offers an on-demand, app-driven transit service to the public. Download the mobile app or call 866-921-8924. Vehicles are dog-friendly vans equipped with bike racks and ADA access. Schedule a ride and get picked up and taken to your destination within a grid marked by Reed Market to the south, Portland Avenue to the north, Bend Parkway to the east and 14th street to the west. 

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